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US, UK and France training Syrian rebels in Jordan - reports

Published time: March 11, 2013 09:09
Edited time: March 12, 2013 05:55
Free Syrian Army fighters  (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

Free Syrian Army fighters (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)

Foreign instructors are training Syrian rebels in modern warfare in Jordan, suggest media reports from Europe. Sources claim the trainees will be the security force if Assad goes, while the combat skills they are being taught distort the picture.

In the past three months some 200 men have already received training in two camps in the east and the south of Jordan, Der Spiegel reports. The military training focuses on the use of anti-tank weaponry, the news magazine reported, citing what it said were participants and organizers. It adds that there are plans to provide training for a total of 1,200 fighters from the Free Syrian Army – the opposition force battling the regime of President Bashar Assad.

The report said that some of the Americans wore army uniforms, but it did not specify whether they worked for private firms or represented the US military.

Last October the Pentagon confirmed that a small group of US special forces and military advisers had spent the summer in Jordan training the country’s military to act in case Syria used its chemical weapons. Reportedly, select groups of Syrian rebels were trained, too.

As Britain’s The Guardian reported on Friday, the US is not alone in their efforts. UK and French instructors are also in Jordan training the Syria rebels.

Though the American, British and French Defense Ministries have not commented so far on the information about the FSA being trained in Jordan, this move does not contradict either the US plans for non-lethal directaid to Syrian opposition or British understanding of the EU arms embargo enforced on Syria.

"Such technical assistance can include assistance, advice and training on how to maintain security in areas no longer controlled by the regime, on co-ordination between civilian and military councils, on how to protect civilians and minimize the risks to them, and how to maintain security during a transition," the UK Foreign Minister William Hague told the British Parliament last Wednesday.

A Syrian living in Jordan flashes the victory sign during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in front of the Syrian Embassy in Amman February 8, 2013. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)

Der Spiegel’s source in Brussels shared that the EU embargo on arms supplies to Syria adopted in early March is “deliberately hazy.”

"When it comes to technical assistance, what it means in practice depends on who you ask. The Brits and the French, for example, are much more forward-leaning than others. The principle is that the assistance should be for the protection of civilians, but as we saw in Libya, that can be interpreted in different ways,” the source said.

In Libya the Western interference in the country’s affairs started with establishing a no-fly zone, ostensibly to protect the civilian population in a civil war, and ended with an allied military force helping the Libyan rebels storm the capital Tripoli to oust the country’s strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The leader finally was brutally murdered by militia without legitimate criminal investigations and court decisions.

Today Libya exists as a territory with nominal central authority and uncontrollable violence regularly sparking between groups of armed rebels and local Bedouins.

Jordanian intelligence is also taking part in training the Syrian rebels, busy filtering off radical Islamists (Salafists) from the candidates for advanced foreign training. The foreign instructors particularly prefer to choose former officers who have defected from the Syrian regular troops.

"The Americans now trust us more than the Turks, because with the Turks everything is about gaining leverage for action against the Kurds," a Jordanian insider in Amman explained to The Guardian.

Reportedly, the Americans are disappointed with the results of help being channeled to the Syrian opposition groups through Turkey, as Ankara has either failed or deliberately allowed the Islamist extremists to prevail the rebel activities in the northern Syrian front.

Other known sponsors of the rebels, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are also channeling their help to the Syrian opposition via Jordan.

Syrian refugees wait to register their names before they are taken to refugee camps after they crossed the border to Jordan, near Mafraq February 18, 2013. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)

In late February Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the US will provide the Syrian opposition with US$60 million in aid, including armored vehicles, non-lethal military equipment, and technical aid.

The Guardian reported that a small number of British special forces have already been stationed in Jordan beforehand so that once the West takes the decision to intervene in Syria directly they could act immediately. While they await the deployment order, they are busy training the rebels the modern warfare tactics.

The newspaper’s Jordanian source insists the training operation underway is of rather a moderate scale.

Yet Der Spiegel reports that the program is aimed at training up to 10,000 FSA fighters to form around a dozen combat-effective units. The Guardian earlier said that this force will be needed to restore order in Syria once President Bashar Assad is gone.

Though The Guardian insists the anti-Assad allies are likely to be training a police task force to maintain order in post-war Syria rather than to turn the war around, the training with anti-tank weaponry does not exactly fit into that picture.

At the same time an anonymous Jordanian official has expressed hope that this force might also give a hand to Jordan if the situation with the Syrian refugees deteriorates completely and hundreds of thousands of additional refugees flow into the country. 

This can easily happen if the public services of the Syria’s southern city of Daraa collapse. In that case a possible 1 million refugees might seek shelter in Jordan.

Reportedly, Jordan has already accommodated over 320,000 refugees from Syria. 

Since the beginning of conflict in Syria over two years ago now up to 70,000 people have been killed on both sides, reported Syrian activists. Over 1 million people have become refugees, fleeing the country to neighboring states.